Americans think that China may not want them

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A Chinese flag in the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai, China. Reuters

BEIJING (AFP) – American companies in China are enjoying growing sales but are increasingly unsure of their welcome in the world’s second largest economy, according to a survey released yesterday.

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Three-quarters of US companies surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in China reported feeling less welcome than in the past, the business lobby said yesterday.

It cited a survey of 411 American firms, not all of whom answered every question.

Some 46 percent of respondents said foreign companies face an unfair playing field compared with local companies.

Inequalities in market access, in enforcement of regulations and in access to government subsidies top their list of complaints.

A growing number see relations between the two superpowers as important to their own business prospects. Trade tensions with the Trump administration simmered last year but have yet to escalate into a full-blown trade war.

At the same time 64 percent of firms reported growing revenue in 2017, up from 58 percent in 2016 and 55 percent in 2015.

Those figures reflect China’s booming economy which last year grew 6.9, accelerating for the first time since 2010.

After President Donald Trump’s visit in October, China announced it would liberalise foreign investment access to its financial services market, a key industry for American firms worldwide.

That was echoed last week by Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, when he promised greater access to financial services, manufacturing and some other service industries at the Davos summit.

Still only 46 percent of firms said they are confident China’s market would open wider to foreign investment in the coming three years. However that figure was up from 34 percent in 2016.

“The survey continues to paint a troubling picture of the regulatory environment in China,” said William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, in a statement.

“The best that can be said of this year’s data is that there appears to be a bottoming out of sentiment from the very low levels plumbed over the past few years.”

The data showed the growing technological might of Chinese companies.

For companies in the consumer arena, 67 percent saw China as on the leading edge of digital technology or a notch above other markets.

“China has a group of medium-income people which is 400 million strong” providing a huge potential market for foreign companies, said Hua Chunying, foreign ministry spokeswoman, when asked about the report yesterday.

“Any person with a great vision can see this clearly.”

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